Surrounded by family, friends and fans, actor Patrick Wilson, who grew up in St. Petersburg, turned the red carpet into a reunion during Wednesday's opening night festivities for the fourth-annual Sunscreen Film Festival.
The star of Broadway stages (Oklahoma!, The Full Monty) and movie screens (Watchmen, Little Children), was the main attraction outside Muvico BayWalk 20. Wilson warmly greeted former classmates and acquaintances while politely posing for photographs. Gawkers without tickets to the screening of his film, Passengers, co-starring Anne Hathaway leaned over the plaza's second floor railing or strolled by for closer looks.
Wilson, 35, the son of WTVT-Ch. 13 anchorman John Wilson and his wife, Mary K. Wilson, has walked his share of red carpets in the past but declared this one, in his hometown and supporting independent filmmakers, something special.
"I've wanted to be a part of this festival for a while," Wilson said. "It's sort of a no-brainer. I've always wanted to shoot (a movie) down here, or do whatever I can to give the film vibe around here a bit of a boost."
Wilson said the fact that his brother, Paul Wilson of Wilson Media, is handling publicity for the Sunscreen festival didn't figure into his decision. "I think I was the one who asked him," the actor said. "I hoped at some point they'd reach out to me. If not, I'll just reach out to them."
"Anytime you can do something to help out the independent (film) community, that's important to me."
After the Passengers screening, nearly 400 festival VIP pass holders and guests migrated to the nearby Museum of Fine Arts, where live music, hors d'oeuvres and more photo and autograph opportunities with Wilson and others awaited. The opening night party was held in the entrance conservatory overlooking Tampa Bay, with the welcome desk converted into a circular bar serving cocktails.
The menu prepared by the Parkshore Grill included roasted duck breast in mango chutney, shrimp cocktails, pork and chicken nachos, bleu cheese-stuffed meatballs, seared scallops in a goat cheese spinach dip and blue crab cakes in a spicy, sweet tomato jam. Cheesecake tarts and chocolate-dipped strawberries were served as desserts.
Sunscreen gets into full swing today with screenings at BayWalk 20 beginning at 1 p.m. A complete list of films, plus ticket information is available by clicking on this link or visiting the festival Web site at www.sunscreenfilmfestival.com.
If you didn't make Wednesday's red carpet events, Wilson, Bill Cobbs (Night at the Museum) and Michael Rooker (JFK) are slated to participate Thursday in a 90-minute panel discussion on acting at 10 a.m., free and open to the public. Later, the trio will lead the first day of an acting workshop for aspiring performers shelling out $125 for the experience.
Sunscreen continues at BayWalk 20 through Sunday.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.